DENVER — In a battle between two of the top teams in the WCHA, the No. 9 Denver Pioneers won the first few minutes of each period, while the No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks won the last few minutes of each period, and both teams battled to a 3-3 draw in front of 5,456 fans at Magness Arena in Denver.
“I thought we controlled the puck a lot better tonight than we did last night,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdekcy. “I thought in many ways, we played much better than we did last night. Now, we served up three pizzas, and anybody, the pizzas we served up, anybody is going to take advantage of those things, especially a good offensive team like UNO. That’s a team you can’t afford to give scoring chances to, especially the kind we gave, but other than those three, I thought we were pretty darn good.”
Denver came out strong, determined to play better than it had on Friday, and got the first goal on a pretty play. Zac Larraza, who had only two goals coming into the weekend before scoring two in the third Friday night, did it again, skating up the left side boards and feeding Scott Mayfield in the left circle, who sent a pass to Daniel Doremus on the right circle, who fed it back through the crease to Larraza, who had an open net to bury the goal at 1:31.
Though Denver dominated the early going, Nebraska-Omaha worked its way back into the game and caught a late break when a turnover gave Matt White a partial breakaway. White beat Joey LaLeggia down into the slot and shifted to his backhand, beating Juho Olkinuora with only 19.8 seconds left in the period.
Much like the game Friday night, but with the teams reversed, the second period was about one team jumping out and scoring and the other striking back, once right after the first goal, and once late. Once again, Denver was victimized by turnovers on both plays.
“I thought it was a battle by both teams,” said Mavericks coach Dean Blais. “It reminds me of last year, kind of the same as this year. Got beat on Friday night and came back with a 3-3 tie on Saturday. A lot of good offensive opportunities, big goals on both ends.”
Denver scored a power-play goal on a pretty play when Mayfield fed a wide-open Shawn Ostrow at the right post, who banged it home at 2:44.
Barely a minute later, the Mavericks tied it when a Denver defenseman intercepted a pass in his zone and tried a clear that was picked off by Josh Archibald inside the blue line. Archibald skated in a ripped a shot top corner stick side at 3:49.
“We took the lead and they kept responding,” said Gwozdecky. “I thought the guy who played so much better tonight than he did last night was Faulkner, their goaltender. I thought he was the difference for them. He really ratcheted up his game.”
When Joey LaLeggia got called for a five-minute major and game misconduct for checking from behind at the midway point of the period, things looked good for Nebraska-Omaha, but Denver got a short-handed goal for the second consecutive game when Larraza got a clear from Shawn Ostrow and skated up the right side boards on a two-on-one with Paul Philiips, who got behind Andrej Sustr. Larraza fed a pass to Phillips past the outstretched stick of Michael Young, and Phillips buried it on a one-timer at 9:16.
“I’s something we kind of stress, push the pace a little bit,” said Phillips. “I saw two guys go down in our zone and I thought I had a chance to jump in the play. Lucky enough, Zac made a great play, passed me the puck, and I was able to put it in.”
However, with time ticking down, Denver coughed up the puck along the boards and Walters skated in from the blue line, ripping a snap shot top corner glove side from the right circle at 17:43.
“They get a short-handed goal out of our five-minute power play, it’s not supposed to work like that,” said Blais. “I thought we had a real good third period.”
While Nebraska-Omaha carried much of the play in the third, outshooting Denver, 20-0, and making Denver run around in its own zone for long stretches, Denver did have several golden chances. Daniel Doremus lifted a shot over the cross-bar with the top corner open, and Chris Knowlton was alone on the left side of the crease with time, but buried the shot into John Faulkner’s pads.
“I thought he made a game-saving save there in the third period,” said Blais of Faulkner. “The guy had the whole net and Johnny found a piece of it.”
Nebraska-Omaha carried the play in the overtime, and Olkinuora had to make a big stop on a chance by Dominic Zombo to preserve the tie.
“Yeah, we are (disappointed),” said Phillips. “We gave up the puck a few times and they took advantage of it. They’re a good team. You make mistakes like that and a team like Nebraska is going to take advantage.”